What should be done about all the deer in Shelton?

The deer population in Connecticut appears to have peaked in 2000, and has been declining ever since due primarily to more liberal hunting laws in the state.

This is based on annual aerial deer surveys and the number of deer killed in car accidents, which also has been dropping for the past decade or so.

Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist for the state, discusses how to control the deer population at a Shelton Deer Committee meeting.

Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist for the state, discusses how to control the deer population at a Shelton Deer Committee meeting.

That’s what Howard Kilpatrick, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), told the Shelton Deer Committee at a recent meeting.

“On a statewide basis, we’re probably driving the deer population down,” Kilpatrick said during a presentation at City Hall. “But we still have areas with a growing deer population.”

Shelton is an area where the deer population may still be increasing, partly because limited hunting takes place inside the city.

In Shelton, about 120 deer were killed last year by hunting, car accidents and crop protection (farmers may get licenses to eliminate deer). That compares to the 95 deer killed in Shelton in 1997.

City officials created the Shelton Deer Committee last fall to look into landscaping damage, vehicle collisions, disease issues, and population levels involving the animals.


Negative impact

While many people are fond of deer, the reality is they can cause damage to natural habitat, wreak havoc on gardens, cause deadly vehicle collisions, and spread Lyme disease.

Kilpatrick described them as being “very adaptable to living in different situations,” including forests, meadows, wetlands, and back yards.

He said having too many deer can lead to many problems — and even to starvation among the deer population.

File photo of deer in Connecticut.

File photo of deer in Connecticut.

The impact of deer on the ecosystem affects plant life as well as the ability of other animals, such as birds, to survive in an area, he said. Deer are herbivores, eating from five to 10 pounds of plant material a day.

While using repellents to protect yard plants from deer can be relatively effective, he said, deer “will eat anything” if hungry enough — such as during harsh winters when the snow covers the ground for long periods.


Twenty deer a day killed by cars

In 2103, an estimated 7,000 deer were killed in car accidents in Connecticut — or about 20 deer a day.

Kilpatrick said fertility control can play a role in controlling the deer population, but it’s hard to get access to enough deer for this to be a long-term solution.

And while deer are not the only animal blood source for ticks, Kilpatrick said, an adult tick needs the quantity of blood found only on a larger mammal such as a deer to reproduce.


Hunting is best management tool

Kilpatrick said a key to successful deer management is having access to land for hunting.

He said in the past decade or two, more towns and land conservation groups have allowed hunting on their land due to a negative impact from too many deer.

Shelton-DeerDeepWildlifeConnecticut has 12 deer hunting zones, with Shelton being in one of the two zones where hunters are allowed to kill more deer because of overpopulation concerns. These two zones essentially cover Fairfield County and the rest of the state’s shoreline areas.

In 1975, each hunter in the state was allowed to kill only one deer during the season. That now is 12 deer, or 18 in the two overpopulated zones. Hunters also may use bait to attract deer in these two zones.

The hunting season has been extended, from two weeks to three weeks long when using shotguns and from four weeks to about eight weeks for archery. In addition, crossbows now are legal.

Nowadays, more deer are killed by hunting than by car collisions in the zone that includes Shelton.


Some restrictions on hunting, too

There are rules to make sure hunting doesn’t interfere with people’s quality of life. Hunters may not shoot a firearm within 500 feet of a structure, and hunting is not allowed on Sundays.

The state has worked to maximize bow hunting in developed areas because there are few places where firearm hunting is allowed due to housing density.

“Bowhunting will be the principal management tool in a surburban/urban environment,” Kilpatrick said.


Other wildlife: Moose, coyote, bear

During a question-and-answer session, questions were raised about other kinds of large wildlife in the state.

Kilpatrick said there were concerns the state’s moose population would begin climbing, once moose began moving into the state in the 1990s.

There now are about 100 moose in Connecticut, but that number isn’t expected to rise much because Connecticut is too warm and doesn’t have as much clear-cut forested areas as northern New England.

“We don’t think we’ll have a lot more moose than we have now because most of Connecticut is a poor environment for them,” Kilpatrick said.

The state’s coyote population also is expected to stay steady because coyotes have occupied all available territories, and they populate based on territorial issues and not access to food, he said.

Kilpatrick is concerned the state’s bear population may continue to climb, noting the DEEP already spends significant time responding to bear nuisance calls.



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  • Natalie Jarnstedt

    Since Howard Kilpatrick seems to be so worried about possible deer starvation due to a high deer population, might it not be a good idea to stop managing them for MSY just to placate hunters, supplying them with a good yearly crop? Collecting hunting license fees isn’t exactly hurting the DEEP coffers, is it?

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  • Vladimir

    Pursuant to the state’s deer management act, deer are classified as a “game” species and are “managed” to provide “maximum sustained yield” for “use” by hunters. The management policies are premised on “compensatory theory,” such that birth rates are artificially manipulated to ensure continued availability of deer.

    State officials are dependent on this matrix for their employment. They do not work to resolve issues of the human-animal dynamic, but “manage” them as though it were a business.

    According to the DEEP, revenue from purchases of licenses and gear accounts for approximately 85% of the state’s Bureau of Natural Resources budget, and it’s fair to conclude that state officials whose jobs are dependent on “sportsmen” constituencies are not the “unbiased experts” that they claim to be.

  • Alexander Davis

    It’s important to know exactly what the deer density is. In order to effectively decrease the tick population, deer density must be reduced to less than 10/square mile. Hunting doesn’t do this because when the deer density decreases to less than 30/square mile, deer become harder to hunt. The hunting industry likes a robust deer population. This is why sharpshooters are being used in some places. Meanwhile, the deer tick infects us not only with Lyme disease, which can cause crippling arthritis and brain damage, but also with at least four other diseases including three which can be fatal: anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan viral encephalitis. Lyme epidemics have been stopped by deer removal because this disrupts the tick life cycle.

    • Vladimir

      The tick life cycle could/should be disrupted by dealing with the issue of how it is infected, through contact with mice and other animals who can support the bacterium in their blood, not by deer, who are a “dilution host” and cannot transmit it.

      • Natalie Jarnstedt

        If there were no ticks, there would be no Lyme disease! Why isn’t more done about the black-legged ticks instead of concentrating on deer who have nothing to do with the disease except being there for a blood meal, which could be taken from ANY mid-sized mammal! Well, of course we know why, one can’t sell hunting licenses to kill ticks – but with so many expert marksmen, wouldn’t that be quite a challenge?

        • Alexander Davis

          Lyme epidemics have been stopped by deer reduction in places like Great Island MA even though there have been all the other hosts such as raccoons, etc. for the deer tick. These other mammals have not been able to take the place of the deer. They are smaller, less numerous,and also able to groom ticks off of themselves.

          • Natalie Jarnstedt

            When deer are hunted and killed, deprived of their usual hosts, the infected adult ticks become a more immediate nuisance, as happened when deer on an island off Massachusetts were virtually exterminated. Wandering ticks threatened the populace as they searched for new hosts.

          • Alexander Davis

            To what Island are you referring? Dr. Sam Telford who ran the deer reduction program in Great Island MA reports that reducing the deer population there caused a reduction in tick density, not an increase as you claim.

      • Alexander Davis

        The only intervention which has been shown to work in stopping Lyme epidemics is deer reduction, This is why the Massachusetts Lyme Disease Commission recommends deer reduction to combat Lyme. This works because ticks come from tick eggs and over 90% of tick eggs come from ticks on deer. Ticks from just one deer can produce up to one million tick eggs per season. Not one tick egg comes from a tick on a mouse since the adult egg-laying tick requires a sizeable mammal to feed on and cannot feed on a mouse. Without the tick vector to transmit the infections to us, the presence of infected mice, chipmunks, moles, etc. are no danger to us,just as the presence of birds infected with West Nile virus are no danger to us in the absence of mosquitoes.

        • Vladimir

          Ticks are not the problem: ticks infected with the bacterium (generally approximately 25%) are the problem. The tick is the “vector” for transmission of LD, not the deer. Among others, the white-footed mouse is the primary host for transmission of the bacterium to the tick. This is because the mice do NOT groom themselves well, so more ticks survive (tick “viability” is the issue). Deer don’t and cannot “transmit the infection to us” because they do not support it in their blood (an “incompetent reservoir”). For this reason, deer are known as a “dilution” or “dead-end” host. Deer may even carry away ticks from a people-populated area. And yes, birds can factor into the equation. Its OK to have a position… but you misstate the facts and ignore the importance of functions of biodiversity.
          The prevalence (or absence) of the mouse as primary host for transmission to the tick is dependent on environmental factors and most importantly, food availability in the fall. With adequate food stores, the mice can survive even exceptionally severe and prolonged winter weather. Whereas low food stores (such as a low acorn mast) mean fewer mice the following season.
          Support hunting? Do so, on its own terms. Deer play a role in the life-cycle of the tick, some of which may be infected. But demonizing deer as responsible for LD is just a tack that ignores the complexity of the issue.

          • Alexander Davis

            You do not understand the importance of removing the vector, namely the tick, rather than the reservoir, including mice and other animals like chipmunks. Consider West Nile virus. Here the reservoir is birds,and the vector is mosquitoes. We go after mosquitoes, not birds. Without mosquitoes, the infected birds cannot infect us. Without ticks, mice cannot infect us. The source of ticks is the deer, not mice. Removing deer to less than 10/square mile results in a decrease in tick density and can stop Lyme epidemics. It is the only strategy which has been shown to work. You can’t argue with success. There has never been a Lyme epidemic in the absence of deer.

          • Natalie Jarnstedt

            Yes, you are correct about the removal of black-legged ticks being important, but at the same time you claim that removal of deer is the only way of eradicating Lyme disease – which is it? The source of ticks are deer – seriously? You’re not making any sense at all. Ticks remain present, whether there’s a deer population or not. ALL deer were killed on Monhegan Island, yet to this day, hikers are still warned about watching out for ticks on the trails. As you say, ticks must be killed in order to reduce or eliminate LD – quit before you muddy the waters!

          • Alexander Davis

            Deer are the main source of ticks since over 90% of tick eggs come from ticks feeding on deer. Deer are key to the reproductive success of the deer tick (also sometimes called the black-legged tick) which infects us with so many horrific diseases. The deer epidemic caused the Lyme epidemic. In 1930 there were 300,000 deer in the US. Today there are 30 million. We are warned that when we see deer, we must watch out for Lyme disease. Removing deer has been the only successful way of decreasing tick density. The Lyme epidemic was stopped on Monhegan Island even though rodents remain there. Migrating birds can bring in the occasional immature tick which is why hikers are warned. However this is a dead end since adult egg-laying ticks cannot feed on a bird. It is on the deer that over 90% of adult egg-laying ticks feed and breed.

          • Vladimir

            Absent deer as a host (however you want to interpret that), ticks will intensify their “questing” mechanism to secure another host (including ourselves, and our dogs, as we walk outside). They will not die out, as a convenience to us, by removing one host. But more importantly, the state’s “management” (killing) program for deer (as “game” for sportsmen) is not configured to realize that end anyway, because that would quash their ongoing revenue: deer “management” is intended to ensure “maximum sustained yield” year after year for hunters to “use.” The state now calls that “ecotourism” to make it more attractive.

          • Alexander Davis

            You are wrong. For instance at Great Island MA, a deer reduction program ran by Dr. Sam Telford resulted in a 80% reduction in ticks when deer population was reduced to 8/square mile. That program was put in place in the late 1980s and continues successfully today. Dr. Telford points out that all the usual other hosts for the adult deer tick such as raccoons, opossums, skunks, etc. are present but have not been able to take the place of deer. Getting rid of the deer meant a massive decrease in tick eggs and thus a massive (80%) decrease in ticks.

          • Vladimir

            The tick–if it is infected– has a complex two-year lifecycle. Removing a single host, even a “preferred” host, and at a particular time (such as would occur during a specified “hunting season”) will not produce the simplistic result you suggest. Absent deer, ticks will quest for a substitute host, as a biological function. if you want to insist on denying that, then this “discussion” is pointless. There are studies (including recent ones) that reveal the complexity of this issue, and have shown varying results, including a lack of relationship between deer populations and incidence of LD, as well as co-relation between fox and coyote populations. A 10-year study published in 2012 over 4 states showed areas with 10-15 deer psqmi with the highest LD incidence in the study. Aggressive deer reduction programs in many areas have not meaningfully impacted LD incidence. There are areas in CT with high(er) deer populations with non-correlating LD incidence, as well as the reverse, and, “hunted” communities with higher LD incidence that the opposite. This issue is far more complex than you suggest, and there are many questions that need answering. But as a qualification, for example, the environmental conditions of an island–a “closed” community– are not generally comparable to those of a suburban, or “open” community. Too bad this discussion hasn’t broached the topic of the importance of public education, and the simple need for checking oneself or one’s family within 36 hours after possible exposure to ticks. Have a nice day.

          • Alexander Davis

            How can you ignore the truth which us that deer removal has resulted in lower tick density and lower incidence of Lyme disease!

            Islands close to mainlands have deer migrating in. At Great Island MA there must be constant deer maintenance programs to keep deer at 8/square mile. Programs to reduce deer are best done on a regional basis because neighboring deer can repopulate the area. Reducing deer has indeed been proven to decrease tick populations in places like Mumford Cove CT, Great Island MA, and Monhegan Island ME. This doesn’t occur in one year of course due to the two-year life cycle of the deer tick. Tick eggs deposited by ticks on deer just before deer reduction will take two years to mature into adults. However after that there is a massive decrease in ticks. The studies you mention we’re flawed because they didn’t reduce deer density enough or maintain it at the correct level. Lyme disease incidence decreased in Mumford Cove, Monhegan Island, and Great Island following deer removal.

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